Sister Greta Towner: bouquets and brickbats during the War
Guest blogger: Avril Fazel, Head of Department, Blackall State School.
In April 1918, Greta is recorded as being admitted to the 8th General Hospital with influenza for two weeks, and again in December 1918. She returned to her duties each time after the bouts of flu - one can only wonder as to whether she had a lucky escape from the Spanish Flu.
Caused by an unusually virulent virus, the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic (known as the Spanish Flu), killed around 50 million people worldwide and what made it especially deadly was the fact that it killed healthy young adults, not just those with compromised immune systems. This flu killed more people than died in the First World War. For more information about the Spanish Flu, listen to The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 on ABC Radio National.
Greta’s record combined with newspapers of the time do show us something of her skills and the pride held by both her and those at home. On the 1 October 1918, Staff Nurse Greta Towner was promoted to Sister. Evidence that Greta did in fact write at least one letter home during her service is found in the Cairns Post on Monday 11 June 1917. She wrote to an Aunt and Uncle who had helped raise her sister, Olive:
Mr. A. H. Pritchard, of Charters Towers, has received a letter from Nurse Greta Towner, stating that the military authorities had decided to give the nurses military rank, and she had been appointed lieutenant. She also has a brother in France, who has recently been promoted to a Lieutenancy.
Mr A.H. Pritchard gave Greta’s sister, Olive, away at her wedding to Herbert Foxlee in 1910. According the wedding report in the Charter’s Towers paper, The Northern Miner, A.H. Pritchard was an uncle with whom Olive spent some time with growing up. A.H. Pritchard’s wife was Caroline Ann, Thomas Towner’s daughter, and her uncle was Gresley Lukin, editor of the Brisbane Courier newspaper.
Sister Towner’s war record indicates a period of leave in the United Kingdom from 8 September 1918 until she resumed duties on the 24 September. On 6 September 1918 her brother Lieutenant Edgar Towner was transferred to the 2nd Red Cross Hospital at Rouen, France, after being wounded in the Battle of Mont St Quentin. Later he was awarded the VC for his actions. Did Greta and Edgar manage to meet up, given she was in the same town – although at a different hospital? After his injuries, Edgar had three weeks leave in England starting 14 September 1918. Did the brother and sister cross paths whilst on leave?
Greta Norman Towner, the country girl from Blackall in Central Western Queensland survived her nursing service with AANS in the Australian Imperial Forces. After being permitted to return home on 15 January 1919, Greta was officially discharged on the 4 July 1919 in Australia. She had served just one month under four years.